Shangri-la to Batang Yunnan & Sichuan Day 6

I woke up at about 8am, my mountain top camp-site was still cold and the sun was a few hours of warming everything up. The tent and sleeping bag were covered in a layer of frost and ice. I had some porridge and decided that I would wait until the tent and sleeping bags were dry before I set off. It would also give me a chance to find out what was wrong with the back brake. I lay some of the wet kit out ready for the sun and sat with a coffee admiring the valley below me. There was little there apart from two or three small houses. The occupants were awake and they were starting to bring the animals out to pasture. I watched as the slowly started making their way up the hill towards me.

moutain top camp site china

I inspected my back brake and was surprised to see that one of the brake pads had actually come off. Just the rubber pad which is replaceable, not the whole block. I checked for rim damaged but everything seemed OK. I replaced the pad and gave the bike a quick check over. The sleeping bags were dry and I was just waiting on the tent. I moved it so that the side not in the sun would dry, as I was doing this a man came up near my camp-site and sat down. I finished pegging out the tent, grabbed the hot water flask and went to sit next to him. He declined the offer of tea, but took a cigarette. He did not say anything but gestured as to whether I had slept here, I told him I had and the conversation continued as to where I was going, if he was looking after the cattle and the road condition, and if there were monkeys and wolves here, apparently so. The guy must have said two words the whole conversation, I wondered if he had taken a vow of silence. We sat there for about 10 minutes sometimes not even talking or moving 2011-01-19 074

With my tea finished I started to pack up the now dry tent, the man watched, fascinated as to how the tent poles came out and then folded out and then everything packed away into its bag. With the tent down, his curiosity seemed to be satisfied and he said goodbye and went back to his cattle. I finished packing up and pushed the bike back up the steep slope to the road. Downhill all the way to the next village apparently, I was very pleased. I sat on the saddle and let the brakes go. My pleasure was soon interrupted as I discovered the road down was like the road up, really bumpy, every time I started to get some speed up, the bike would be bouncing of rocks and I would start to loose control. The only way down was going to be slow. It could always be worse I thought and it’s good training. After a short while the road flattened out and I was on a flattish plain, with nothing but the cattle to keep me company, it was a magical place, so quiet you could hear silence itself. catle grazzing tibetan plan chinaMy solitude was only disturbed by the odd passing car and a beep of the horn. One car that seemed impressed that I was where I was on the bike. The nice smiley guys took photos with me before heading up their hill in their nice 4×4. I stopped for more nuts and raisins, and readjusted some of the gear on the bike that kept coming loose with the constant jolting. The flat plain started to descend and I soon found myself snaking down a windy path into another valley below. Physically, riding was quite easy, not much pedaling involved, but mentally I was tired, constantly have to concentrate, although this soon became second nature, I was glad to reach the bottom. bad road chinaI stopped for some more nuts, it was 5pm already, it had taken me all afternoon to come down the hill. I contemplated what to do. There was still more light left and if I was lucky I could make it to the next town and find a hotel for the night. I set off, the road still slightly down hill and still very bumpy. I passed through some small settlements and thought that the village might not be far. My computer speedometer had stopped working so I had no idea how far I had come or how far it was until the next village. All of a sudden there was a big bang, pop and a high pitched hissing sound that got lower in tone very quickly. It was a familiar sound and I jumped off the bike quickly to reduce the weight on the back wheel. The back tyre was completely flat, a sharp rock or piece of metal, I had a brief look but could not find anything obvious. It didn’t really matter, I just wanted to get it changed quickly. I lent the bike on its side to save having to take all the bags off and started to change the tube. It was getting cold and I was tired, puncture chinaI worked quickly and had a new tube and on the bike in about 15 minutes. I could not find the hole in the old tube and the tyre seemed to be fine. As I was pumping up the tyre I realised I had made a silly mistake, the small nut that goes on the valve of the tube was still on and inside the rim. I took the tyre off, then the nut, then put the tyre back on and started pumping again. Just as I was about to finished in noticed a big tear in the tyre, I half cursed and half chuckled to myself, this was the longest tyre change in the history of cycling touring. I took the tyre off again, got one of the mountain bike tyres out and put that on instead. It took ages to get it on, I was really worried about the rim, but I had to force it. It popped on and I breathed a sigh of relief. It had taken me an hour just to change the tyre. I quickly packed up, put all my lights on and got out the high vis jacket. ripped tyre chinaI passed a few settlements and wondered about asking about camping, for some reason I just wanted peace so opted for carrying on. I still answered all the hello and goodbye calls but did not linger to chat. The temperature had really dropped and I was starting to shiver, I put on the last of my warm clothes and set of down the bumpy road again. I arrived in a small village where a small bridge marked a turn. I had a quick scout for a camp site but most of the area was people’s garden so no good for camping. A group of people were crowded around a small fire by the side of the road, so I went to ask for directions. I approached cautiously, it is uncommon for a hairy white guy on a bike to pass through their village. It can be unnerving when a white guy with reflective clothing and lights on his bike and head approach you in the dark. Some of you might think why bother with the reflective clothing, you are in the middle of nowhere. Well that is precisely why. Granted people walk around the road at night all the time, but it is quite easy for them to dive into a bush or something if a big truck as not seen them, that is if they get the chance to do so. Driving on these roads must be hard enough, so driving at night even harder. The more visible I am and the longer the driver has to compute that there is something about the same width as a scooter on the road and that s/he must avoid it, the better. Yes I look silly but not as silly as I would do in a box on a plane home to see Mum. Anyway I quite like my hi vis jacket I think it cool.

So I have digressed, I tend to approach with caution when I am looking like a Christmas tree. Fortunately after the initial shock and the people realised I was just another human being lost too, questions started being asked. I found out the the road the village was straight on and that it was not far. How far, not far was I don’t know but I was encouraged. We then got on to the subject of sleeping, I explained about my tent, I have a few pictures of the tent on my ipod to show people my home. I decided the village seemed friendly and so I asked I there was anywhere I could put up the tent in the village. On of the guys, said that I could sleep at his house. I was very thankful, I checked again to make sure that I had understood and was soon making my way to his house.host in small village china

A few people from the original crowd at the side of the road helped me with my bags and a was ushered up the stairs to a large room that functioned as a kitchen and living area. I said a brief hello the the curious faces in the house then went back downstairs to get the bike. The ground floor was covered in straw and young cattle that were sleeping here for the night I presumed were coaxed out the way to make room for the bike. I thanked everyone for their help and we went back upstairs to meet the family. It was a bit of a shock for me and for them I think, the house set up was very different to anything I had seen before but it was warm, cosy and inviting. I was offered a seat and tea and then a plate of food and beer was given to me. I thanked everyone profusely. I started to explain my trip and answer questions as best I could. The family consisted of three men, one of these being the guy that had offered my a place to stay. An older women I understood to be the mother of the three men, three children and two women. I could not work out who was mother to the children, one of the women I really could not work out how old she was. I guessed she was either a young mother in her early twenties or sister to the men.

I was frustrated at my lack of ability to talk, learn and share about our lives and cultures. I did the best I could. My hosts kept encouraging me to eat and I managed to convey that one beer was plenty for me. One of the guys that was also drinking beer said that I should drink more and that he had already drunk three. I actioned that if I drank more than one I would dizzy and would not be able to cycle the next day. This seemed to be amusing as everyone laughed but they must of understood at the same time. I drank tea the rest of the night. The tea was different, rather than leaves it was hot milk and my cup was constantly refilled after every sip. Two of the tree guys wore red robes, I think that this makes them Lamas and perhaps explains why there weren’t drinking but instead were sniffing something from a small container that I presumed to be snuff. Lamas differ from priests in that they can leave the temple and are allowed to live outside it. The closer to Tibet I have got the more men and women I have seen dressed in these red robes. tibetan women

The mother of the house had some tea and it looked as though she was reading the tea leaves. She talked to me and I have no idea what she said, I just hoped that it was good news. She was a strong woman, and confident. Different to the impression that I had of the local women who often seemed a bit meek and sometimes wary of me when I pass them on the bike. Bringing up three boys must have contributed to this and where her husband was, I don’t know. So many question and so few answers. She announced that it was time for bed and a mattress was brought out for me. I prepared my sleeping bag but was stopped from putting it down. A ladle of sorts was placed in the fire and hot smoking coals were brought out of the fire. The smoke was circled around my bed and everyone seemed to approve and I was motioned to lay out my sleeping bag. With all the tea I had drunk I was desperate for the toilet. I asked where it was, outside, followed the guy that had originally taken me in and was shown to a wall in the small dirt street outside the house. I went back upstairs and the family watched me get into bed. I said good nights and thank you and when I lay my head down they seemed happy and went upstairs to sleep themselves. I took me while to get to sleep, my muscles seemed to be active still, I should have stretched. Eventually though I drifted off, I felt safe and secure and was very thankful to the family for taking me in.

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